The Red Bank YMCA says affected families can apply for subsidies to replace the free memberships. Below, the letter sent to parents of children in the Healthy Kids program. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
The Maple Avenue nonprofit’s executive director, Katie McAdoo, tells redbankgreen the change was driven by its need to be “accountable” to funders.
In a letter sent last week to parents of the 211 kids enrolled in the Y’s Healthy Kids program, McAdoo said it will end the complimentary memberships as of September 1 in order to focus on “the individuals and families in our community who need us the most.”
McAdoo told redbankgreen that similar letters will go out in the next week to the 56 borough police and volunteer emergency responders who also use free memberships. She has already notified fire Chief Wayne Hartman of the impending change, she said.
Those adversely affected can apply for needs-based memberships at discounts based on a sliding scale, she said. McAdoo said the organization will host information “pop-ups” in the fall at Lunch Break and the Parker Family Health Clinic, and on back-to-school nights, to encourage applications as part of an “all-out outreach.”
Still, the elimination of the free Healthy Kids program, available to all borough children up to eighth grade, has raised concern.
In an email sent to McAdoo over the weekend, Jill Burden, a Westside Avenue resident and parent of a middle school student, expressed alarm about the impact on borough children, close to 90 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches at school.
“Our children rely on the Y for a healthy outlet while they are not in school. For many of our children, the Y is a ‘home’ where they can meet with their friends play basketball, swim and work out,” Burden wrote.
Moreover, she said, “many of our students suffer from food insecurity, and their parents work countless hours around the clock just to pay the rent. I feel in my heart that our children are truly ‘some of the neediest in Monmouth County.’ ”
McAdoo told redbankgreen the documentation used by schools to qualify children for free or lower-cost lunch would be accepted by the Y for family memberships at a reduced rate. “With those folks, that would be an express approval,” she said.
“We’re really trying to drive the family memberships,” she said. “We feel entire families should enjoy the Y. It should not be isolated to just their kids.”
The Y will take into account not only income, but unexpected medical or family expenses, and will accept letters from employers in situations where payment is made in cash, she said.
Asked how many employers might be willing to admit, in writing, that they’re paying people off the books, McAdoo said, “I can’t address that.”
McAdoo said the Y will continue to provide free swimming lessons to third-graders. Healthy Kids Day, an after-school program, and other community events will also continue, she said, and a new, free program to help seventh-graders adopt healthy lifestyle choices will begin in the fall. The seventh-graders need not live in Red Bank, she said.
For first responders, the Y is willing to visit firehouses and the police headquarters to offer seminars on healthy backs, cardio care, nutrition and any other topic that might be helpful, she said.
The letter did not address in detail the relationship between the free passes and the Y’s charitable status. But McAdoo, who was hired last October, told redbankgreen that the Y’s finance team focused on the memberships about 10 months ago, about a year into the administration of president and CEO Laurie Goganzer, as part of a best-practices review, and saw a need for change.
“Looking at the existence of our charitable status, we are not able, given guidelines, to simply award free memberships,” she said.
She said the Y is “in a very healthy financial situation,” and as a charitable organization returns its revenue back to the community. Last year, the Y awarded some $835,000 worth of financial aid, including scholarships for summer camp, a LiveStrong program for cancer survivors, social services and other other programs, McAdoo said.
Of that sum, the Healthy Kids program accounted for about $37,000, or $175 per student, and first responders cost about $47,000, or $828 per participant, she said.
But while other programs have awards criteria, “there’s no backup, there’s no standards” for the free memberships given to borough children and responders, McAdoo said.
“We do have to demonstrate the need to our funders,” she said. “As a donor, if someone makes a gift to the Y to be used, say, for summer camp, we then want to be able to tell that donor the story of how their funds were used. And we can best do that by understanding the full value of what has been awarded, to whom, how often the child attended” and other metrics, she said.
“We’re not looking to get rid of the first responders from our building, nor the schoolchildren,” she said. “We just need to be accountable for the assistance that’s awarded.”
The end of the free rides coincides with the effective date of a merger between the Community YMCA, which has its administrative offices in Shrewsbury and operates the Red Bank facility, and the YMCA of Western Monmouth County, based in Freehold.
The combination, with a new name to be determined, will create the second-largest Y in New Jersey, serving 36,000 members at 11 facilities with 1,200 employees and a $25 million operating budget, according to an April press release.
McAdoo said anyone with a question about the changes can contact her directly. at 732-741-2504, extension 239.